Making Matters! How the Maker Movement Is Transforming Education

The Maker Movement, a technological and creative learning revolution underway around the globe, has exciting and vast implications for the world of education. New tools and technology, such as 3D printing, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computing, e-textiles, “smart” materials, and programming languages are being invented at an unprecedented pace. The Maker Movement creates affordable or even free versions of these inventions, while sharing tools and ideas online to create a vibrant, collaborative community of global problem-solvers.

Fortunately for teachers, the Maker Movement overlaps with the natural inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing. By embracing the lessons of the Maker Movement, educators can revamp the best student-centered teaching practices to engage learners of all ages.


One might try to marginalize robotics or 3D fabrication as having nothing to do with “real” science and dismiss such activities as play or as just super-charged hobbies. However, today’s new low-cost, flexible, creative, and powerful materials should be viewed as building blocks for today’s children. They offer much more than just “hands-on” crafting—these tools bring electronics, programming, and computational mathematics together in meaningful, powerful ways.

students for the next academic challenge, or a future career, but as a place where students are inventors, scientists, and mathematicians today.

Three big game-changers of the Maker Movement should be on every school’s radar:

• Computer-Controlled Fabrication Devices

Over the past few years, devices that fabricate three-dimensional objects have become an affordable reality. These 3D printers can take a design file and output a physical object. Plastic filament is melted and deposited in intricate patterns that build layer by layer, much like a 2D printer prints lines of dots that line by line create a printed page. With 3D design and printing, students can design and create their own objects.

• Physical Computing

New open-source microcontrollers, sensors, and interfaces connect the physical and digital worlds in ways never before possible. Many schools are familiar with robotics, one aspect of physical computing, but a whole new world is opening up. Wearable computing—in which circuits are made with conductive thread—makes textiles smart, flexible, and mobile. Plug-and-play devices that connect small microprocessors to the Internet, to each other, or to any number of sensors mean that low-cost, easy-to-make computational devices can test, monitor, and control your world.

• Programming

From the Next Generation Science Standards to the White House, there is a new call for schools to teach computer programming. Programming is the key to controlling a new world of computational devices and the range of programming languages has never been greater. Today’s modern languages are designed for every purpose and learners of all ages.

“Hard Fun” and the Process of Design

The tools and ethos of the Maker revolution offer insight and hope for schools. The breadth of options and the “can-do” attitude espoused by the movement is exactly what students need, especially girls who tend to opt out of science and math in middle and high school.

However, hands-on Making is not just a good idea for young women. All students need challenge and “hard fun” that inspires them to dig deeper and construct big ideas. Making science hands-on and interesting is not pandering to young sensibilities; it honors the learning drive and spirit that is all too often crushed by endless worksheets and vocabulary drills. Making is a way of bringing engineering to young learners. Such concrete experiences provide a meaningful context for understanding the abstract science and math concepts traditionally taught by schools while expanding the world of knowledge now accessible to students for the first time.

Tinkering is a powerful form of “learning by doing,” an ethos shared by the rapidly expanding Maker Movement community and many educators. Real science and engineering is done through tinkering. We owe it to our children to give them the tools and experiences that actual scientists and engineers use, and now is the time is to bring these tools and learning opportunities into classrooms. There are multiple pathways to learning what we have always taught, and things to do that were unimaginable just a few years ago.

Celebrating Young Talent

The Maker Movement celebrates the talents of young people such as Sylvia (aka “Super-Awesome Sylvia”) who has a webcast show, Sylvia’s Super-Awesome Maker Show, where she sings, plays, and teaches millions of viewers about electronics, Arduinos, and other fun projects. Joey Hudy is a young Maker and entrepreneur who surprised President Obama with a homemade marshmallow cannon in the White House. Caine Munro was a young man who made an entire game arcade entirely out of cardboard and tape. A passerby fell in love with Caine’s ingenuity and asked his father if he could make a video about the arcade. Not long after, Caine’s arcade lit up YouTube. Caine and his arcade inspired millions of people around the world. He received invitations to visit other countries, a scholarship fund was created for his college education, and a foundation was created to nurture creativity in kids across the globe.

the Maker Movement and startups are made for each other. Here are some key positives from an entrepreneur perspective:

1. Shorten the time and cost from idea to prototype. 

In today’s fast moving market, the basic product development cost and time are critical to survival. They come at the early stage while a startup has no revenue or valuation, so professional investors are hard to find. Low-cost design and fabrication tools are extremely valuable.

2. Place to build skills and become familiar with new tools.

Maker spaces, sometimes called hacker spaces, have sites and events, including tutorials, where people with common interests can meet, socialize and collaborate. With the new rapid prototyping tools, products can be physically built for analysis, rather than just conceptualized.

3. Network with potential cofounders and strategic partners.

Relationships are best built while working and learning together, rather than over drinks at a mixer or industry conference. There are already more than 500 active hackerspaces worldwide, as listed on Hackerspaces.org. Countless startup teams have already been spawned from these.

4. Opportunity to meet investors and support organizations.

Venture capitalists and investors are where the action is, to see first-hand what is possible, and who are the leaders. Maker spaces are becoming the new incubators and accelerators for startups, and support contacts, such as lawyers and marketing groups, will be easy to find. 

5. Open your mind to new entrepreneurial opportunities.

With low-cost digital design and fabrication tools such as 3D printing and the ability to digitize almost any object, bold new innovations become apparent. Very young entrepreneurs get to “touch and feel” the results, and can experiment to their heart’s content. These ideas can grow quickly into real products.

6. Meet the new consumer demand for customization.

Customers today increasingly demand solutions that are customized just for them. Hobbyists and craftsmen have made custom solutions for a very long time, but companies have resisted this requirement to keep costs down. Maker tools are changing these economies of scale.

7. Accelerate the trend to higher purpose startups.

The new do-it-yourself capabilities and low entry costs mean that you don’t have to be Bill Gates to offer solutions that have an impact on society. The Maker Movement is already poised to transform learning in our schools, and offer low-cost solutions to solve environmental and third-world problems.

8. Diversity breeds success.

By collaborating with the Maker Movement, artistic entrepreneurs work with the technology freaks, and both benefit from other cultures around the world. New products emerge, as diverse as networked-art installations, Internet-of-Things innovations, and many other hybrid software-hardware solutions.

Makers are becoming real entrepreneurs, rather than just hobbyists and inventors. The new shared culture emphasizes learning through doing in a social environment, as well as fun and self-fulfillment. Have you tried it yet?


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